At the Extension office, we get a lot of questions about turf problems. This week I’ll turn our attention to some other members of the grass family that are excellent for planting in beds and borders. Ornamental grasses are versatile, colorful and low-maintenance. Plant your favorite perennial grasses and grass-like plants this fall for years of enjoyment.

Many ornamental grasses prefer drier conditions and will withstand drought. This makes them perfect for landscaping areas without irrigation. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) is a native grass that prefers moist conditions but will tolerate drought. Site switchgrass in full sun. The plants will reach 3 to 6 feet tall and make a graceful screen or textural accent. The clumps of blue-green foliage remain upright and columnar even after the foliage dries to beige in the winter.

The inflorescence from some grasses can be a long-lasting dried flower or dramatic addition to bouquets. Northern Sea Oats has Distinctive seed heads that appear like small dangling fans on the inflorescence. It is another state native plant, but it prefers a shady location. It maxes out at about 4 feet.

Ornamental grasses are an easy addition to the landscape to provide a contrasting texture and color. Fountain grass “Little Bunny” can be worked in between flowering perennials or along borders. It stays compact, reaching less than 2 feet tall. Its fluffy flower spikes appear in early fall. Other cultivars of fountain grass will range in heights and colors.

Some popular grasses have proven to be somewhat invasive. Avoid maidengrass (Miscanthus sinense), pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana), Japanese bloodgrass (Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’), giant reed (Arundo donax), and weeping lovegrass (Eragrostis curvula). Although attractive and easy to grow, they reseed freely and replace naturally occurring species in our local environment. To learn more about ornamental grasses that are good for South Carolina gardens, visit the HGIC online factsheet 1178, Ornamental Grasses and Grass-Like Plants.

One of my favorite grass-like plants for fall is carex. They come in various colors and add an airy contrast to fall annuals like cabbages and pansies. Carex “Bronco” is a coppery bronze color that complements autumn décor or contrasts nicely with cool tones. It takes full sun or part shade and likes to be kept evenly moist.

Clemson Extension agents will be at two different events on Saturday the iMAGINE Lakelands STEAM Festival 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Oregon Avenue and Round’s Ranch Fence Building Demo 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 2028 County Line Road, Bradley.

A winter pond management webinar will be 11 a.m. Oct. 20. Learn about some proactive management strategies you can take during winter to help create a healthy and enjoyable pond come springtime. Visit the online calendar here to register for the virtual presentation: https://calendar.clemson.edu/. Contact me at stepht@clemson.edu or 864-889-0541.

Stephanie Turner is the Greenwood County horticulture agent for Clemson Cooperative Extension.

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